Recycling: Save the Environment, Make a Fortune

2018-06-21 23:50:27Xinhua Editor : Wang Fan ECNS App Download
Special: WorldCup2018

With the FIFA World Cup entering the second round of competition, Russia has been the central focus for many Chinese football fans.

Despite not competing this year, China has contributed to one of the world's largest sporting events with its green, environmentally friendly technology.


One of the key features that makes this World Cup special is its eco-friendly commitment as indicated in the Sustainability Strategy promoted by FIFA and the Russian Local Organizing Committee (LOC), which aims to make this a "greener and more sustainable" World Cup.

"Each of the 12 eco-friendly stadiums has a system to manage and recycle waste, which is expected to help reduce the negative environmental impact," said Alexey Sorokin, CEO of the Russia 2018 LOC in a press release.

In addition to regular recycle bins, green-colored machines spotted at this year's games have drawn a lot of attention. The machines are a hi-tech novelty that collect plastic bottles, which are eventually turned into chic tees and tote bags.

And they are made in China.

Chinese green technology has been welcomed by the local communities in Russia and soccer fans from all over the world.

"Russian volunteers has been guiding spectators at the stadiums to properly recycle their plastic bottles," said Liu Xuesong, executive Vice President of Incom Recycle, creator and operator of the plastic recycling system, in an interview with Xinhua.

After finishing a bottled drink, spectators can easily locate a recycling machine, insert their empty bottle and get a reward.

Eight bottles can make a cool-looking t-shirt and 14 of them for a stylish tote bag.

In Beijing alone, 5,000 Incom boxes like the ones at the World Cup are functioning, interconnected and monitored through the company's network.

The company's statistics show that more than two million people are active users of these smart recycling devices and more than 54 million PET bottles have been recollected since 2012, equivalent to more than 8,100 tonnes of petroleum saved, 55,350 trees planted or cutting carbon dioxide emission by 4,050 tonnes.


Founded in 2003, "Incom Recycle" is present in more than 21 countries and regions, providing integral solutions for recycling and reusing industrial and household waste. The company is representative of the growing recycling business in China.

Another company making waves in China is BGG Recycle, an innovative B2B platform for recyclable resources. It has proven that the "dirty business" of waste management can be profitable, with an annual revenue of 100 million yuan (15 million U.S. dollars) in its first year.

Its founder, Anna Gui, who used to work on Wall Street, started the IT company to tackle the packaging waste problem worsened by the rapid surge of e-commerce in China. The convenient BGG app connects office buildings and companies with collectors, and after being sorted, the collected resources are sold to factories as raw materials.

"Our vision is to put limited resources into an infinite circle of sustainability through innovation," she told Xinhua. The sector has always been profitable in China, even though the "garbage collectors" were often depreciated and their contribution to environmental protection was underestimated.

By cutting out the middlemen and increasing the collection efficiency with the latest information technology, BGG has helped raise the recycling rate by 10 to 20 percent in nine Chinese cities where they have been providing thorough, personalized solutions, and the collectors working with the platform have seen their incomes almost double, Gui said.

"I'm optimistic about our business reaching more than 50 cities within three years. We will be providing services to more than 50,000 small businesses and collaborating with more than 100,000 collectors," she said.

BGG expects to rake in one billion yuan in 2018 with more programs being implemented nationwide.

Besides domestic players, China also welcomed TerraCycle, a UN Monument Award winning waste management company based in Trenton, New Jersey to help tackle China's plastic pollution.

TerraCycle came to China in 2016 with a Colgate-sponsored program to recycle used toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes. It has since collected 63,000 pieces of oral care waste from Chinese consumers.

A contest was recently launched among elementary schools in Shanghai for young children to recycle oral care waste and get votes on children's drawings themed "Green Future". The winning school will receive a 3D printer.

"A green future will not happen without a clean and healthy environment - that's the educational message we want to send out," said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle.

TerraCycle began in 2001 when Szaky, then a Princeton freshman, and his friend created an organic fertilizer made from waste-fed worm excrement. To date, over 80 million people in 21 countries have helped collect and recycle enough waste to raise over 21 million dollars for charities around the world.

Last year, TerraCycle created recyclable shampoo bottles for Procter & Gamble's Head & Shoulders brand with 25 percent plastic waste collected from beaches, rivers and other waterways. The project won the United Nations' Momentum For Change Lighthouse Activities Award in October.

TerraCycle tries to eliminate the idea of waste in three ways: to recycle everything, including cigarette butts and candy wrappers; to make products out of waste, like plastic beach buckets; and to close the recycling loop.


TerraCycle's coming to China "is a great opportunity," Szaky told Xinhua.

"The waste issue caused by consumerism has actually been raising social awareness towards this problem - which means that people are willing to face the issue and work to solve it," he said.

"The government has been very supportive of green and sustainable business," he said, taking the example of China leading the world in wind and solar energy production.

China has been promoting energy conservation and environmental protection (ECEP) industries as one of the seven emerging strategic pillars of the economy since 2012. In its 13th Five-Year Plan a target was set to increase the added value of ECEP industries to account for 3 percent of GDP by 2020.

Fiscal and tax support has been granted to technological research and businesses that provide solutions, products and services towards green development.

Encouraged by the preferential policies and the strong and urgent demand, China's recycling business has witnessed an increasing number of players.

"Waste management is crucial for public well-being and environmental protection, yet many start-ups, despite noble and ingenious ideas, failed because it's difficult for small businesses to maintain a profit margin, especially at the start," said Mao Da of Beijing Normal University, an environmental history scholar and founder of China Zero Waste Alliance, a non-governmental think tank.

TerraCycle maintained a one percent profit margin of revenue for more than a decade. In 2017, the company's sales numbers reportedly surpassed 20 million dollars.

"We are changing people's habits...... Getting people to care about recycling is our biggest challenge," said Tom Szaky. "One of the most important things we do is educate - we raise awareness of the issue, and let people know that the environment is worth the cost."

The company also provides some incentives, for example, consumers can gain TerraCycle points based on how much they have recycled, and convert the points into charitable cash donations.

But changing people's habits through education may take too long to address the critical pollution issues, according to Liu Xuesong with Incom Recycle. She urged authorities to use legal procedures to determine a producers' responsibilities in the recycling process.

"To our knowledge, more than 50 countries and regions around the world have implemented laws and regulations to establish a producers' recycling obligations," she said.

In countries like Germany, Australia and Lithuania, consumers pay a deposit for products with recyclable single-use packaging material, and the deposit is returned to the consumer when the soda bottle, tin can or carton box is recycled. "This has proven the most effective way to raise the recycling rate to an average of 95 percent," said Liu.

Earlier this year, the European Union announced a strategy to make all plastic packaging in the EU recyclable by 2030. Multinational corporations are often criticized for producing huge amount of packaging waste like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Colgate. They have since announced respective commitments to 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2030.

"Producers should be responsible and play a larger role in recycling their packaging waste," she said. "Once the recycling rate goes up, we have the technology and capacity to turn the waste into valuable resources, and plastic pollution will stop growing."

Incom Recycle has partnered with Coca-Cola to recycle its packaging waste in China.

Another challenge is to change the society's bias towards recycling professionals and to attract more talent, said Anna Gui.

"Many talented people don't consider recycling as a career, and experienced collectors are used to working on their own... It will take time for this long-existing sector to recognize our modern values," she said.

"The future of this industry lies in the intelligent transformation of old practices," suggested Gui.

"An intelligent recycle and reuse system is inevitable. The entire process, from where the waste is produced, to circulation and waste processing companies, should be monitored, supervised and properly deployed," she said.


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